Thriving in a Neurotypical World through Cultural Acceptance, Awareness and Advocacy


I strongly feel that any ASD person who wishes to THRIVE in this NT world needs to take it upon themselves to understand not just the NT world in which they live, but also that they are part of a fairly substantial ASD culture. Perspective taking is a HUGE part of integrating into another culture. But one cannot take another perspective if they do not have self-awareness. How can I relate to your models if I do not know my own? Even after nearly 5 decades of life on this planet, I struggle to understand these basic things. This site is dedicated to helping the ASD person and the NT professional/caregiver see the world through ASD models about important life matters and life skills, in an effort toward giving that ASD person the best options for thriving (whatever their definition of thriving is) in the NT world.
"Perspective taking is a capability that we all learn as infants, at least in principle (e.g., Baillargeon et al., 2010), and yet even as adults, we still have our difficulties accomplishing it (Galinsky et al., 2006; Wu and Keysar, 2007): In our attempts to find orientation in the outside world, in social relations and interactions, or in our inner life, we often presume that we are adopting the only possible perspective, and hence find it difficult to view things from a different angle. In this regard, cognitive scientists barely differ from anybody else. For good reasons (in fact, better reasons than most other people) they assume to understand cognitive processes, and for similar good reasons, they believe to have achieved this insight by well-suited methods.

This picture changes somewhat, when turning to non-familiar cultures. When visiting a far-away country, most of us are hit by realizing that the people we meet show opinions, values, and behaviors that do not at all match our expectations. Suddenly, we have no difficulties imagining – and might even find it inevitable – that “the others” will perceive and most likely reason about the world differently from us."

Cultural Constitution of Cognition (excerpt above from this article)

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More on ASD as a Culture...
In a 1995 book by Oliver Sacks, Temple Grandin says that she feels like an “Anthropologist on Mars” when having to deal with NTs. Temple “got” what all successful people “get” about life whose need is to integrate in a culture that is foreign to their own. The way to SURVIVE is to tolerate the other culture, but the way to THRIVE is to understand it at a deep enough level to take a different perspective. Survive or thrive? Which one? If you want to thrive, you need to become an anthropologist so that you can actually understand the other person’s perspective. This site and its contents are all about setting up the ASD person to thrive, not just survive, in a majority NT world. The overriding objective is to give each culture an understanding of the other through jointly (NT/ASD) developed curriculum.

But in order to understand another culture or another way of being, one must open the mind to “other” truths than the ones you currently hold. There is a famous saying in anthropology that is very true:
“In order to walk in my shoes, you must first remove your own.” (author unknown)

What is the motivation for any ASD person to learn about NT as a culture?

Learning how to do "win-win" is one of the most important things I have ever learned about society and people and my role in the bigger picture. The win-win absolutely REQUIRES that I learn to take another person's perspective as well as understand a bigger picture. I will cover this topic more in-depth in my EF skills section.

The sad state of affairs today is that ASD people, as a whole, do not do so well with current methods and training/support systems, and a large majority are under- or un-employed as a result. There must be a movement for both groups to understand each other if there is to be change. (And NO, you do not understand this other culture like you think you do.)

Perspective is EVERYTHING!

I recently had the pleasure of spending a very long weekend with the Social Thinking Team from San Jose, CA. They helped me to develop the following concept of the Social or Emotional Mind vs. the Logical Mind, which helped me to take on new perspectives.

The Emotional Mind and the Logical Mind are at different ends of the spectrum. It is a spectrum and people line up at all points of it. Some ASD people are highly emotional and emotionally aware. Other ASD people are largely unaware emotionally. The needs of these two types of ASD folks are subtly but significantly different. A Logical Mind requires data and order first, whereas an Emotional Mind requires emotional support first. Both can delve for short periods of time into the other area, but neither can survive without their needs being met.

An EM will eventually get very angry when he feels that his emotional needs are not being met, and an LM will melt down without his obsessions/data.

The key take-away from this picture is that both types of people tend to judge one another based upon their neurology. Emotional Minded people will often dislike Logic Minded people because they do not give them what the NEED emotionally, and also because the LM may be slow to process data (not as quick-minded) or even be non-verbal. The Logic Minded person may judge the Emotional Minded person as random and idiot due to the fact that they act based on emotional scenarios and interpretations that the LM cannot understand.

But this judgment is invalid if based solely on the neurology of the individual. There are many brilliant data types and emotional types in the world today.

Net == Neurology does NOT equate to competency (or “people are NOT idiots”) <= laugh if you want but this was a HUGE learning for me....


But this misunderstanding not just happen by ASD people. The more time I spend with ASD specialists and the more training material and other ASD documentation that I read, the more I get how very little they understand about me as an autistic person or my perspective. What is ironic about this is how it is continually said that I lack perspective taking or Theory of Mind or even empathy as a person with ASD. I am very fond of the article referenced above (Cultural Constitution of Cognition), which very clearly states that ALL people lack perspective taking abilities BUT that we can best open our minds when we view perspectives from a cultural context.

The typical ASD person lacks overall awareness of self, which inhibits abilities to look beyond self but also to articulate or language self. To that end, I have created models for professionals to help me. To my knowledge, this is the very first time ever that these sorts of models are being presented for consideration to the ASD and professional/caregiver community. How am I supposed to understand about you and your culture/ways if I have never understood about myself? When I was recently undergoing grief therapy, I was exposed to friendship/relationship models that I could not relate to. I understood the words and that others have this model, but I knew it was not mine. I could not language mine at the time, so we made no real progress on my therapy by looking at this model. Many months later I had developed my own relationship model, and from that I derived several very key elements to my grief that we could have attacked back when my grief was so severe.

I did not even realize until just very recently (when I was DX'd at the age of 47) that there was this other (NT) culture in my own country besides mine. I have been able to study other cultures in my various travels throughout my life and even live harmoniously in other cultures, but I always assumed that those humans living beside me in my country would have the same culture as I and the same perspective as I.

Boy was I ever wrong.

NT and ASD people share the same space and same language—or so it seems. In reality, they do not do so at all.

Many of us who have had some time on this planet without a formal DX are victims of bullying and years of being called names such as rude, insensitive or asshole, even when we tried very hard to otherwise fit in. We had no reasons offered to us about these names that we could wrap our heads around, given our unique perspectives. I recently had an ASD specialist tell me how her ASD people need to be "validated" before they will respond to any sort of change. All I can offer to her and others is that YES, this is super important. This is from years of having our thoughts and our ways being invalidated (seemingly very randomly) by people around us.

Recently I read a post from a young woman with ASD who very clearly articulates what this is like for some...

How years of bullying affect "self"

She says, "These days nobody bullies me. But my life so far has been mostly spent being a victim of bullying in some form or another, and it’s taken its toll. It’s taken me years to build up the (rather delicate) self-confidence I possess today, but the slightest insult will send me spiraling into a meltdown. Wherever I go I feel that strangers are staring at me, judging me, hating me. I’m anxious and frightened wherever I go. I assume the people around me (my friends, my family) only tolerate me, and probably find me annoying. I’m incredibly unstable and unsure of myself, and I personalize nearly everything negative I encounter."

I, personally, did not get bullied so very much and was so very socially unaware that if I did, I did not see it. The people who are more nuance-challenged by ASD will experience bullying on a much more significant level, since their peers cannot tell anything is wrong with them and think they should just "get" this stuff. As a result, they are often very delicate (either anger- or anxiety-filled) by the time they reach therapy and they are not willing to recieve. But even for me, it is a very hard pill to swallow that there is another way and that this other way is a result of an entire culture of people who value emotions and people over data and objects.

Viewing my tasks of improving me via a dive into another culture (the NT one), with no culture being more "right" than the other, makes the learning possible for me. It is hard to learn this stuff as I am firing new motor neurons in my mind. All I ask is that we make the language we teach with as cultural so that...

1. I feel a part of a group (the ASD culture)
2. I feel that my way is validated within the context of that group
3. I can learn about the NT way not as the "right" way but as the majority way.


Relevant Links Supporting this Philosophical View:

Social Groups and Culture

Cultural Constitution of Cognition

Other Cultural Cognition Arguments

Sense and the Senses: Anthropology of Autism

Autism and Anthropology

On Autism as a Culture

Autistic Culture: Celebrating Neurodiversity

Culture and Disability

Cultural Relativism Primer

Not Mind Blind but Context (Culture) Blind

Brenda Rothman on Autism "experts" who are NT

NeuroAnthropology Links:

NeuroAnthropology: Understanding the Encultured Brain and Body (in-depth site by a PhD at a Florida university)What is NeuroAnthropology? (great high-level site if you just want to understand the basic concepts of combining the two)